speak (Japanese honorifics)

Like a number of other East Asian languages, Japanese uses a complex system of honorifics, i.e. a system where a number of different levels of politeness are expressed in language via words, word forms or grammatical constructs. These can range from addressing someone or referring to someone with contempt (very informal) to expressing the highest level of reference (as used in addressing or referring to God) or any number of levels in-between.

One way to do this is through the usage (or a lack) of an honorific prefix as shown here in the widely-used Japanese Shinkaiyaku (新改訳) Bible of 2017.

In this verse, the Hebrew that is translated as “speak” or “say” or similar in English is translated in the Shinkaiyaku Bible as o-hanashi (お話し), combining “speak” (hanashi) with the respectful prefix o-.

Another respectful way of saying “speak” in Japanese is by using o-katari (お語り), combining “speak” (katari) with the respectful prefix o-. In the Shinkaiyaku Bible this is used in Exodus 20:19 (Moses’ speech), 2 Samuel 7:25, 2 Samuel 7:29, and 1 Chronicles 17:23.

(Source: S. E. Doi, see also S. E. Doi in Journal of Translation, 18/2022, p. 37ff. )

formal 2nd person pronoun (Spanish)

Like many languages (but unlike Greek or Hebrew or English), Spanish uses a formal vs. informal second-person pronoun (a familiar vs. a respectful “you”). Spanish Bibles all use only the informal second-person pronoun (), with the exception of Dios Habla Hoy (third edition: 1996) which also uses the formal pronoun (usted). In the referenced verses, the formal form is used.

Sources and for more information: P. Ellingworth in The Bible Translator 2002, p. 143ff. and R. Ross in The Bible Translator 1993, p. 217ff.

See also the use of the formal vs. the informal pronoun in the Gospels in Tuvan.

complete verse (Genesis 24:33)

Following are a number of back-translations as well as a sample translation for translators of Genesis 24:33:

  • Kankanaey: “Then he set-before (them) what they would eat. Whereupon Abraham’s slave said, ‘In-a-little-while please. I will not eat until I tell my purpose in coming here.’ ‘All-right, tell (it),’ said Laban. So then he related to them all that his master Abraham had instructed him and the way God had led him on the right path. He also related the sign that he had requested from God upon his arrival at the spring so that he-would-thereby-know who it was whom God had chosen for- Isaac -to-marry. When it was finished that he related-it, he asked them if they would give-permission that Rebeka go-with him. (24:34-49)” (Source: Kankanaey Back Translation)
  • Newari: “After that food was brought for them.” (Source: Newari Back Translation)
  • Hiligaynon: “When the food was- already -set before them, the servant said, ‘I will- not -eat if I can- not -tell first my purpose in coming here.’ Laban replied, ‘Okay, tell us (excl.).'” (Source: Hiligaynon Back Translation)
  • English: “They set food in front of him for him to eat, but he said, ‘I will not eat until I tell you what I need to tell you/why I have come.’ So Laban said, ‘Tell us!'” (Source: Translation for Translators)

Translation commentary on Genesis 24:33

Then food was set before him to eat: the Hebrew has a passive construction that must often be expressed as active; for example, “He brought…” or “Laban brought….” Revised Standard Version reflects the Hebrew before him, that is, the servant who is the one the narrator is paying attention to. Since the servant’s helpers have just been mentioned, it may be clearer to say “He brought them food” or “Laban set food before them.” It is also possible to express this as a time clause; for example, “When food was brought, the servant said…” or “When Laban brought them food, the servant spoke up.” See Good News Translation.

But he said: what the servant said would cause surprise in the light of Laban’s hospitality. Accordingly Revised English Bible says “he protested,” and Bible en français courant “he declared.” The servant’s protest is I will not eat until I have told my errand; that is, “I will not eat until I explain to you why I have come here,” “… what I am here for,” “… tell you what my mission is,” “… tell you my story.” Some ways in which translations render this sentence are “I have to talk first before I eat supper,” “We can’t eat food yet; there is business to talk about which I must tell you first,” “I can’t eat straight away; I must tell you my business first.”

Laban responds with Speak on, that is, “Go ahead and tell us,” “Yes, please tell us,” “Say what you wish,” “Let us hear it” (Revised English Bible), “Well go on. Talk!”

Quoted with permission from Reyburn, William D. and Fry, Euan McG. A Handbook on Genesis. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1997. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .